Matthew 4:4-10 – Why does Jesus cite these OT passages?

Problem: Jesus cites three passages from the OT. Did he cite them in context or out of context?

Solution: Let’s consider each OT passage that Jesus cites:

CITATION #1 (Deuteronomy 8:3): The context for this citation is the end of the 40 year wandering. Moses had just reminded them of their long time in the wilderness, where God provided manna for them (Deut. 8:2). Then, he tells them that God had more than just physical provision for them. God allowed the Jews to wander to reveal their hearts to them (“testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not”). Carson writes, “The point, of course, is that the Israelites were unable to provide for themselves in their own strength, so God had to intervene miraculously.”[1] The same is true for Jesus’ temptation.

CITATION #2 (Deuteronomy 6:16): The citation of testing at Massah is a reminder of when the people doubted whether or not God would provide water for them (Ex. 17:1-7). Of course, even though they grumbled at Massah, God provided water for them through the striking of the rock. Similarly, Jesus was citing this, because he didn’t want to be ungrateful for God’s faithful provision. Just as God provided for the Jews for 40 years in the wilderness, he would also provide for Jesus for 40 days in the wilderness.

CITATION #3 (Deuteronomy 6:13): Satan tells Christ to bow down to him and inherit the world. By contrast, God promised to give the Jews the Promised Land if they followed his leadership. This citation comes in the context of being rescued from Egypt (Deut. 6:12) and not following other gods (Deut. 6:14). In other words, Jesus was quoting this in perfect context.

SATAN’S CITATION (Psalm 91:11-12): This psalm is about the believer’s protection. Satan’s citation is unjustified for two reasons:

First, God’s protection is conditional on making him your refuge. Earlier in the psalm, we read: “If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you” (Ps. 91:9-10). So putting God to the test would not be consistent with making God your dwelling.

Second, the psalm promises protection from evil forces, but not intentional self-harm. Carson comments, “Even within the context of the psalms’ worldview, there is no justification for provoking God by deliberately putting oneself in harm’s way, demanding that he come to rescue. Verses 11–12 speak of protection against accidental stumbling, not intervention to prevent suicide!”[2]

[1] Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos. 2007. 15.

[2] Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos. 2007. 16.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matt 4:4-10)

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